Air travel bloggers are abuzz about the new offering from Etihad called “The Residence.” This “class above First” is actually a three room suite meant for 2 people to share. Sounds amazing, right? Well it is, and my initial thought was that it was incredibly stupid and would never make a profit. While this is Etihad and profit doesn’t seem to be to be a top priority, I’ve actually changed my mind on this. This is a pretty clever use of space.
What’s so clever about this? Well, this is being put on the A380, and the A380 normally has a lot of wasted space at the front of the upper deck. There is a big staircase that goes downstairs at the front and that leaves awkward areas on each side that can’t be used for seating. Most airlines have failed to find anything great to put there.
Qantas has a little lounge on one side and a galley on the other. Korean has a lounge on one side (above) with a lavatory on the other. Emirates went with a big lavatory on each side that had the first airborne shower on a commercial jet. These are all fine uses, but they don’t get more people on the airplane. They also don’t get those people on the airplane to pay any more. Behold, The Residence.
Etihad carved out an area on the port side that would have normally just had a First Class suite. But then the airline extended that forward into the awkward space. The result is a sitting room where the First Class suite would have been, then a lavatory in front with a shower, and finally a bed wedged into the nook at the front. All of that is behind closed doors. That’s pretty creative.
To do this, Etihad had to go with a very spacious First Class layout. In the area where Emirates fits 14 First Class suites today, Etihad will only fit 9 plus The Residence. Instead of having two aisles like every other airline, Etihad will just have one aisle down the middle in First Class.
I find it hard to believe that this sparse First Class layout is profitable, but then again, this is the airline that has been building a fourth alliance by continuing to pour money into Air Berlin and trying to buy a piece of Alitalia. This has to be much more about prestige than profit. But if you’re going to put so much into a First Class product, then The Residence is a worthwhile addition.
The Residence is actually more than just the physical layout. There’s a VIP concierge who handles everything from the moment a reservation is made. A limo is sent to pick up and drop off the traveler. And on the airplane, there is a butler and a chef to serve every need. This just sounds so silly, but if someone is willing to pay it (and if anyone is, that person is in the Middle East), then it’s not the worst idea around.
And just how much is it that you’ll have to pay for this privilege?
Well, Etihad puts the A380 into service on December 27 from Abu Dhabi to London. For that relatively short 8 hour flight, you’re looking at a little over $21,000 one way. If you want to fly from Sydney to Abu Dhabi in First Class and then connect to The Residence for the flight on to London, it only increases the fare a mere $8,000 one way.
Think that’s not a great deal? Well, does it help you to know that you can bring 2 people for the price of one? See, the Residence is designed for two people, but they obviously can’t sell those 2 seats independently. So one or two people cost the same amount.
So far, in the first month it operates, I see three of them sold from Abu Dhabi to London. That’s on the inaugural on December 27 and the day after (neither of which may actually have been sold to paying passengers) as well as on January 6. But I can understand why people wouldn’t book so far in advance even if they were interested. The fares are refundable only minus a 20 percent fee if you cancel more than 30 days in advance. The penalty increases until you’re within 2 days of travel. Then it’s non-refundable.
I’m still highly skeptical of the super premium strategy that Etihad and Emirates are employing with First Class and a class beyond (Emirates is working on besting Etihad right now), but you know, if your name is Monty Brewster and you need to blow a ton of money in a short amount of time, this is definitely one way to do it.